Brittany

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Destination Information

Brittany offers the traveler a fascinating cultural history, plus enchanting old towns such as Dinan, Quimper and Vannes. The Celtic Breton language is still spoken, and on high days and holidays, the women still wear their traditional long dresses adorned with lace. Brittany is home to many megalithic monuments, the largest alignments being near Carnac. Here you will also find long beaches swept daily by Atlantic tides, and the ocean in this area yields some of the finest seafood anywhere in the world. The Breton villages we liked best on our most recent trip were remote Commana, hilltop Moncontour and seaside Ploumanac’h. 

May through July is the most pleasant time for a visit; August is too crowded, and some restaurants close for the season as early as the middle of September.

Editor Tips

Brittany’s Best Market

Brittany’s best market, Marché des Lices (3 Place du Bas des Lices) in Rennes, is one of the largest in France, with 300 stalls stacked with a variety of goods, including smoked fish, fresh butter and organic apple juice. It is held every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Don’t miss the stands selling galette-saucisse, a favorite Breton snack of grilled sausage wrapped in a buckwheat crêpe.

France’s Most Famous Butter

Jean-Yves Bordier is the most famous butter producer in France. Bistro Autour du Beurre (7 Rue de l’Orme; Tel. [33] 2-23-18-25-81), his restaurant in Saint-Malo, features seafood-oriented dishes made with Bordier butter by talented chef Steve Delamaire. His butter comes with a variety of seasonings, from smoked salt to vanilla, yuzu and fennel. 

Don’t miss the monkfish cassoulet with roasted salt butter and onion mousse, or the cod with hot oysters bathed in Champagne with seaweed butter and green peas. Closed every January.

Dinard

Originally a village of fishermen known as Saint-Enogat, Dinard, located on the Côte d’Émeraude of Brittany, was transformed in the middle of the 19th century by English aristocrats who built fanciful but luxurious villas on hillsides overlooking the sea. Follow in the footsteps of these grandees on the guided “Décollé et ses villas,” a walking tour of their villas created by the Dinard Tourism Office (Tel. [33] 8-21-23-55-00)

Seawater-Based Spa Therapy

Brittany is the birthplace of thalassotherapy, the seawater-based spa therapy. Though the benefits of the treatment have been known for centuries (in 414 B.C., Euripides wrote that “the sea cures all human ailments”), it wasn’t until 1964 when cyclist Louison Bobet, amazed by the speed and ease with which he recovered from a serious accident while being treated at a seawater medical institute in Roscoff, translated his cure into a series of treatments at the spa he opened in Quiberon. 

Modern thalassotherapy, a series of seawater spa treatments with proven medical benefits, is frequently used to treat pain and mobility issues, and to lose weight and to detox. There are a number of thalassotherapy centers in the region, and many have especially picturesque seaside locations.

The Remote Beauty of Commana

Of all the beautiful Breton villages, Commana, a remote place in the wild empty moors of the region between Plomodiern and Roscoff, is especially enjoyable. The beautiful granite church of Saint-Derrien in the heart of the town is a masterpiece of Breton Renaissance art, with a magnificent altarpiece dedicated to Saint Anne. 

Near Saint-Brieuc, Moncontour, officially designated “one of the most beautiful villages in France,” is also worth the detour. The town, known as the birthplace of famed French economist Joachim Faiguet de Villeneuve, is a huddle of medieval stone houses built around a church perched on a steep hill with strategic views over the surrounding countryside. 

Delicious Oysters 

Brittany is one of the great oyster-producing regions of France. You’ll find two varieties on Breton menus. Huîtres creuses are small, cupped rock oysters that fit into the palm of your hand. Huîtres plates are flat Belon oysters, which are much rarer. Two-thirds of France’s flat oysters come from Cancale. 

My favorite place to sample oysters is Prat-Ar-Coum (Lieu-dit Prat Ar Coum; Tel. [33] 2-98-04-00-12) restaurant in Lannilis, owned by the Madec family since 1898. Open only from July 1 to August 30, the establishment overlooks a cove where the oysters are raised; lobsters and other shellfish are also served.